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American Handgunner Nov/Dec 2011 Digital Edition - Page 34
BeTTeRsHOOTiNG Dave Anderson sport pistols he late Jeff Cooper used you can use for informal target shooting, the term “sport pistol” for a small-game hunting, casual plinking useful class of handguns. A with family and friends, serious markssport pistol is a .22 — more manship training and introducing new than a pocket pistol, but not quite a shooters to handguns. It’s handy to pack target pistol. Although it may share along while camping, fishing, hiking or the same frame size as a full-house on hunting trips. target pistol, the sport pistol is lighter, Dave’s Third Series (1955) Colt Woodsman handier and less expen- looks right at home in this classic setting. The design accompanied sive. The trigger pull legions of outdoorsmen on and sights may not be adventures in the wilds. as refined though, and sometimes the finish is a bit more utilitarian. The sport pistol is a practical tool. It’s one t The sport pistol is almost uniquely American, and I have a few personal favorites of the breed. They’re mostly older guns since I’m mostly an older person, but there are fine sport pistols presently manufactured, as well. The High Standard name meant accuracy and value for decades. This postwar Sport King remains reliable and precise. Colt Woodsman An example of the genius of John Browning, the Colt .22 Auto was made from 1915-1977. It went through several variations, the “pre-Woodsman” followed by three series bearing the Woodsman name, all similar in appearance and operation. The pistol shown is an example of the third and last series, introduced in 1955. Throughout, Colt did a commendable job of maintaining quality. The pistols were always nicely fitted, polished and finished. The cost of handwork brought price increases, especially during the inflationary 1970s. I’m sorry the Woodsman is no longer made; yet I think Colt went with the right decision in 1977. It simply became too costly to produce and could not compete against equally useful, lower-cost alternatives. Rather than cheapen it, Colt retired the Woodsman with its dignity and reputation still intact. Few pistols feel as good in the hand and few have helped introduce as many people to handgun shooting. Made in Belgium by FN, the Challenger (and its lowerpriced version, the Nomad) was one of the few sport pistols not made in the US, though the majorities were sold here. This example is from 1962, the first year of production. The model was discontinued in 1975 — another victim of inflation. If I could only have one sport .22, it would be the Challenger. Beautifully made, fit and finished, it equals the Colt in quality and adds a couple of features I like: an adjustable rear sight attached to the barrel rather than the slide, and the option of easily interchanging barrels. The Challenger even accepts the vent-ribbed, heavy-target barrel of the Medalist, if you can find one. Although the FN pistols were discontinued, Browning in the US continued to offer sport .22s. Currently Browning has the very popular Buckmark. Made in the US, the Buckmark is well designed, well made and has an excellent value. high standard sport King BroWning Challenger Prior to WWII, various High Standard models were the only serious competition to Colt’s Woodsman. After the war, and into the 1970s, H-S target .22 Autos were unsurpassed in quality and in popularity at the highest levels of competition. Along with match pistols, H-S made several models of sport pistols under names like Sport King, Field King and DuraMatic. The example shown is an early postwar Sport King with 4½" barrel and fixed rear sight. It was also offered with 6" barrel and as a combination with both barrel lengths, readily interchanged by pressing the lever lock beneath the barrel. The utilitarian Sport King doesn’t have the high-polish finish of the Colt or Browning, but workmanship, accuracy and reliability are certainly equal. Ruger’s little .22 Auto, first sold in 1949, is one of the most significant pistols of the last century. Its success spurred the growth of what would become one of America’s premier armsmakers. It proved so reliable, tough, durable and such an amazing value, it came to dominate its class. When first marketed, it sold for $37.50. Sales were so great, and the basic design so sound, the price was maintained for years. As late as 1970, the price was $47.50, and it remains at a terrific value today. With a few Ruger’s .22 Auto is both revisions along the way, it stays in utilitarian and elegant production nearly 65 years later. at the same time. The example shown, dates Hard to believe back to the mid-1950s. Blue-worn the design is 65 years from so much use, it’s nonetheless old. rust-free, the bore is immaculate and it shoots as great as ever. The shoulder holster is a Heiser from the same era — two classics, indeed. ruger standard .22 Browning’s Challenger ranks up with Colt’s Woodsman in fit and finish, and is Dave’s “most favorite” Sport Pistol. * 34 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • NOVEMBER/DECEMBER2011